I’ve been doing a fiendish amount of research into health lately. Many of the people I’ve encountered in the irksomely named health and wellness “space” got there because of a personal health crisis. They had a crash-and-burn-level health problem that forced them to quit their sugar-laden, sleep-deprived ways and start respecting their bodies. I started this journey (another irksome word, sorry!) because I was freaked about getting sick after the second of my two parents was diagnosed with a serious cancer before age 60. And, in the process of discovering some pretty great resources that have been able to answer some of my questions, instead of getting well – or, better than I was, which wasn’t catastrophically ill – I got sick.
I was diagnosed with a rare, genetic condition but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m being tested for some other stuff but I’m not talking about that, either, whatever the results come back to be. When I first started researching, I felt like I was getting clearer: processed food is not food, additives, preservatives and colorings are harmful to the body, most personal-care products, unless you make them at home, are toxic, only one percent of the population needs four to six hours of sleep and it’s because of a gene mutation (you would know if you’re among these people; everyone else really does need at least seven hours. Sleep deprivation is as bad for your health as smoking). Okay. Eat real food, which mostly means learning how to cook. Read labels and don’t use stuff that has known carcinogens in it. Stop viewing sleep deprivation as a competition or badge of honor, start respecting the people who prioritize it and learn from them.
But this got isolating real fast. First, food is a fellowship activity. It’s deeply painful to have to bring your own food to a dinner party, even if “no one minds.” You’re still left out in a way that is very difficult for people who don’t have food issues or actually choose to try and eat healthy (which, in this society, is very difficult because pretty much no one does) don’t understand. Also, I have not figured out a way to present this information without sounding judgmental or like I’m ruining anyone’s parade; technically, my message is basically that this parade is on the road to hell. It’s shiny, but that’s because it’s melting. But fire hosing people, even if they’re on the road to hell, will get them to tune you out rather than to turn around. And, if sleeping is the new smoking, loneliness is like drinking bleach.
(Sidebar: I apologize to anyone else like me whose cortisol starts pumping whenever they read news like that because they’re doing all they can to sleep better and to create social connections but find that anxiety about sleep makes it impossible to sleep and that, whenever they pursue time with friends, people always act like they’re interested right up until specific dates of actually getting together come up. Then? Radio silence. And this is perfectly in our culture. So I apologize because I know how deeply frustrating and despair-inducing it can be when remedies to serious health issues are not in your control and you’re doing all you know to do).
Speaking of anxiety, just when I started knowing the answers to many of the questions people on the podcasts I was listening to were asking, just when I could recite from memory the top five worst endocrine disrupters and what personal care and cleaning products they can most commonly be found, just when I started to actually understand the doctorspeak many of the experts and physicians in the documentaries and interviews I was watching, I started to come across conflicting information. I’d dug so far into this nutrition and wellness stuff that I was starting to be able to ask some sophisticated questions…and getting murkier and murkier answers.
This, it turns out, is also stress-inducing even though the whole point of this research at the beginning was to decrease stress and find ways to boost wellness. How would I know which foods to eat when the experts in the natural healing and wellness field are no longer saying things I know about or that agree with each other? Is coffee good or bad? Does all fruit have too much sugar for people with sensitive blood? Should lentils be soaked before cooking? I’ve gotten conflicting answers to all these questions, and that was giving me heartburn. I was following a strict eating and drinking plan, and when that got messed up for whatever reason, I could feel the stress (adrenaline and cortisol) threading into my veins. I started thinking about food all the time, like a junkie. My friends got nervous whenever they were planning a meal I was invited to.
While there are some basic principles – like eat real food (and avoid what you’re allergic to) and reduce intake of processed/refined sugar, get enough sleep at regular times, find ways to manage stress, and figure out what kind of movement works for you for exercise – we really don’t know what healthy eating looks like. A few weeks ago, this would have totally stressed me out. Perhaps I’m a stress junkie. But now, this uncertainty is giving me permission to relax. For example, liquids may interfere with digestion, some studies say, but it will not give me cancer if I have some water with a meal, especially if I’m thirsty. The healthiest thing for me right now is uncertainty.